Cheers for Fernando

Fernando Pisani’s courageous comeback from a career-threatening bout of ulcerative colitis has made the Edmonton Oilers forward a finalist for the 2008 Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy. Pisani, Chris Chelios of the Detroit Red Wings and Jason Blake of the Toronto Maple Leafs are the finalists for the award, presented to the NHL player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey. In typical Pisani style, he was more excited about the attention his story might bring to others living with the debilitating ailment than about the possibility of winning the award when I phoned and told him the news this morning. "It’s an honour," said Pisani, who is vacationing in Arizona. "It’s one of those things where you’re happy people recognize things you’ve gone through as an individual. There was a time when it was very scary not knowing what would happen." As most Oiler fans now know, Pisani had been successfully battling the condition—a chronic inflammation of the large intestine—since being diagnosed with it in 2005 when it worsened last summer. In a span of weeks, the 31-year-old Edmonton native lost almost 40 pounds. Barely able to walk a flight of stairs, Pisani was bed-ridden and then hospitalized. He was facing career-ending surgery before a new course of drug therapy turned the tide. Most people, including medical experts, thought he’d miss the 2007–08 season while recovering, but after sitting out the Oilers first 26 games, Pisani returned to the line-up Dec. 2 in Anaheim. Clearly, Pisani’s story resonated well outside Edmonton—the finalists for the Masterton Trophy are decided by a vote of the Professional Hockey Writers Association in all 30 NHL cities. "You don’t go through something like this thinking you can get an award," Pisani said. "You just want people to be aware. Something that scares me is this is something that affects kids. "I couldn’t imagine anyone’s kid going through that. It scares me every day worrying about if my kids will ever have to go through that situation. I don’t want anybody to go through something like this." Pisani’s desire to bring attention to the condition prompted him to again tell his story in a recent Hockey News blog. He’s become very active around Edmonton in speaking and fund-raising. Should he get the nod over Blake and Chelios when the Masterton is presented with the NHL’s other awards June 12, it’ll no doubt shine more light on the condition. Then again, Pisani has done much to accomplish that by just becoming a finalist. No Oiler has ever won the Masterton. "Basically why I wrote that blog is for awareness and so people have an idea what’s going on and how it affects not only myself but a lot of people," he said. "People are somewhat embarrassed about the whole situation. Nobody wants to go see a doctor about something like that because it’s obviously a very personal, private issue." Just so Oiler fans know, Pisani is still on a course of drug therapy and hasn’t suffered any setbacks since the season ended. He’s healthy, happy and feeling fine. —Listen to Robin Brownlee every Thursday from 4 to 5pm on Total Sports with Bob Stauffer on Team 1260.